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“Do you plead guilty or not guilty?”

* * *

The judge was tired. He just wanted to go home and eat some pizza. But the woman sitting in the defendant’s seat was charged with murder, and if she stayed true to her track record of unnecessary dramatic pauses, then this plea hearing would end right at the start of rush hour; meaning he wouldn’t be home in time for dinner.

I’m sixty, he thought. I’m too old for this! Yet there he sat; in his hot, sweaty robes banging that darn gavel once again.

She’s pretty, he supposed, but in a common way. No shining star, that’s for sure. However, this trial made her “tragically beautiful” in the eyes of the press and the public. What a shame, they croon, that the pretty and the young have to suffer. What a shame.

God, I hate reporters.

* * *

It was a typical affair. During the day, they smiled at each other politely as if they were mere acquaintances, but when the sun set and night fell, she would sneak into his home, into his bed, where he would whisper sweet nothings into her naive ear while she giggled at all the wonderful things his hands could do.

He promised me everything, she thought with a faint, sadistic smile playing at her lips. Everything except six feet of dirt, yet that was what I gave him.

* * *

The lawyer shifted nervously in his seat. His client worried him. Just say it already! he pleaded in his mind. What was taking this girl so long? It was really very easy: two words maximum. And the content wasn’t difficult, for he had drilled into her and extracted all of the excess oil and tar and shock running through her veins; replacing it with a pure, single phrase: not guilty. Even if she had killed them, she had one line and one line only. Why was she stalling?

To be completely honest, he didn’t know whether she had done it or not. But what did it matter, anyway? Sure, the crime scene photos were bad, but the same could be said for any other murder. His job was to make sure she left this stuffy courthouse without a death sentence; it didn’t mean anything to him if she actually was guilty or not.

Deny everything, he had told her again and again. You are innocent until proven guilty.

The prosecutor only had circumstantial evidence- convincing circumstantial evidence but nothing solid. They also didn’t have any alibi for the woman, but it’s plausible that she was alone. In her apartment. Not killing anybody.

If she just pleaded not guilty, the case was already won. He had told her as much. In fact, she knew as much.

But still, that ghost of a smile worried him…

* * *

He swore that he would divorce his wife for her. Soon, he had repeated. Soon. So she had waited, content with only dreaming of their fairytale happily ever after.

But soon had turned into weeks which turned into months which turned into a year. And that was her cue.

She played the part of distressed throwaway very well. She sobbed, she wailed, she even shrieked; enjoying every moment of it. For she knew that they were just actors in a movie. It was all play pretend; nothing more than the imaginary games she used to play with her sister. With that in mind, she had allowed the deep, dark whirlpool of hatred to suck her in.

No- not suck. She had walked into it willingly- even welcoming it with open arms- and had rejoiced when it consumed every molecule of her body.

She really was a spectacular actress.

* * *

The little old woman sat in the very back of the room; nervously fingering her dress. She had put on her nicest frock for the trial: green with little white flowers stitched onto the hem. She wasn’t entirely certain of the etiquette at these murder cases. She hadn’t been needed at the plea hearing- only the actual trial on a witness stand- but she’d come anyway.

She had been the one to find them. She lived a block away and had went to them looking for a spare screwdriver- her husband always seemed to be losing them- and when nobody answer the doorbell, she peered through the window and saw her. The mother. She was lying face down; her body posed in a most grotesque position. The old woman shivered at the thought of brown hair tinged in crimson blood.

Oh, the blood. The blood was everywhere: the carpet, the children, her dreams, even the spaghetti seemed to be stained with it. It haunted her, so she had decided to dump the whole business here. Leave it behind in that suffocating courthouse and never again think about that dreadful morning.

When I get home, I’m going to plant a garden, she resolved. I need a good weeding. In fact, this whole trial needs a good weeding.

* * *

She never loved him. Not even one bit. Her lines were convincing, but she had known the whole time that that their affection wasn’t real. They were just actors in a movie after all, and she knew what her role was in the next scene.

* * *

The man sat in the very front of the courtroom dressed in all black. He wanted a good look at the woman who had killed his brother. His wife had offered to come with him, but he had refused her. Frankly, she seemed a little relieved. She never did have much of a stomach for long events, and besides, their marriage was already falling apart. No need to push the empty champagne glass off the table.

Now that he was here though, he wasn’t exactly sure what he wanted. Beforehand, he had been impassioned with a burning need for justice, but now, staring at the murderer, his rage slowly began to ebb away. His brother always did have a good taste in women, and he really did choose a pretty one to screw. Not too pretty though- all girls with supermodel looks are more trouble than they’re worth- but just pretty enough that she excited the testosterone in him.

God, I’m messed up, he thought. I'm at my brother’s murder trial, yet all I can think about is how hot his killer is. What’s wrong with me?

The truth was he didn’t know anymore.

* * *

She had crept into his house for the last time and finished the film with glamour. The visual effects were astounding: crimson blood that looked so real oozing on the dark green carpet, the lifeless eyes of his children staring forever into nothingness. Absolutely astounding.

But she knew it was all fake. It was a movie, after all.

* * *

The reporter had her yellow notepad ready in her lap, her ballpoint pen poised to begin furiously scribbling notes about the heartbreaking enchantress charged with first degree murder. She could already see the headline: “Beauty Kills the Beast!” It would be her first cover story.

Imagine that: her name, her work being read by people across the nation. Okay, more like people across Philadelphia, but still. This article would be her lucky break. Her boss with the oversized ears would finally realize her talent and give her the good scoops and not just the ones about shoe companies going bankrupt. Who knows: she might even save up enough money to move out of her parents’ attic! (Never the basement: she was too good for that.) Finally her mother wouldn’t always lower her eyes and mumble something about adoption whenever asked at book club about her daughter. No, her mother would proudly brag to those persnickety turnips about her adventure-seeking child who journeys into places even the toughest reporters don’t dare go to bring the world- okay, Philadelphia- the shining truth.

She began jotting down the beginning of her article. The hapless woman sits alone in the center of the humid courthouse, yet in her wooden chair she sits surrounded by an indescribable air of dignity and can it be- excitement? Her posture is that of a princess; her face serene and unclouded; her dazzling eyes exuding confidence. In a situation of uncertainty and suspense, one thing is for sure: she is in control here.

* * *

She had waited for the director to yell cut, but the cameras kept rolling, and then there she was; her first acting debut in front of the whole world.

* * *

The jury straightened their papers- fidgeting in their seats- while they tried their hardest to look busy and important. Why in God’s name was that insane woman smiling?

* * *

Ringing like a wedding bell, clear as morning settled over a shiny screwdriver, and as pristine as a shard of glass lying broken on the floor, her reply echoed through the courthouse as the bright spotlight settled on her.

* * *



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